Seth Walsh and Erin Hinson have been asking people, “What’s your favorite thing to do in Cincinnati?” Whatever the answer is, they do. This is one of their adventures.
Cincinnati’s pivotal role in beginning the debate that would ultimately end slavery and our deep roots to the Underground Railroad are explored in the powerful National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. You can’t #UnlockCincinnati without making the trip.
Seth: When I first decided to settle in Cincinnati after graduating from Xavier University, I did what I thought would help me get a job: I got a lot of coffee dates with people and asked them what I should do. The top question I would get in response was, “What do you like?” I love history, and on several occasions, people recommended that I look to work for the Freedom Center.
When we began #UnlockCincinnati, I reconnected with one of those individuals, who asked if I had managed to go to the Freedom Center yet. Embarrassingly, I had not. They told me it was their favorite thing to do. I was out of excuses at that point: I had to go.
Erin: You can easily access the museum from the parking garage below it. We find it easiest to access this garage from Joe Nuxhall Way and drive until you see the color signage for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It’s well marked; then you simply take the stairs or elevator up to the entrance. If it’s not a game day, parking prices are reasonable. Expect to be in the museum between two to three hours, with $5-$7 for parking.
You can also park farther away, whether in Covington (walk/Red Bike across the Roebling Bridge) or downtown Cincinnati. (Again, walk or Red Bike over -- there’s a Redbike station right outside!)
Seth: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened on the banks of the Ohio River in 2004. It took more than 10 years of planning, fundraising and development to make the museum a reality. It is one of the “Museums of Conscience” in the United States that has been built in the last several decades, along with other museums such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Inside the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center stands a two-story-tall slave pen. It is a powerful reminder of the horrors that slaves experienced.
The museum was built in Cincinnati because of our unique connection to the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery, including the Lane Seminary Debates and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” For many slaves, freedom came as they escaped over the Ohio River into Cincinnati, part of a free state.
The Freedom Center focuses not just on the history of slavery but on the slavery that still exists in the world. It is horrifying to walk through the halls and read about the barbaric crimes that still happen to this day.
Erin: We went to the museum while on the Tour de Cincinnatus with Seth’s family. I was expecting to be moved by the different exhibits, and indeed the different factors of the past and ongoing fight against slavery in the world were tragic but motivating at the same time.
As all great historians do, the founders of the museum created a story from the lives of real people. This story was brought to life in a way that we can only begin to imagine, and that story was full of passion -- people passionate for the freedom they deserved. These stories give us hope that no matter the circumstance, we can rise above it, but beyond that, the museum told the stories of those who lost their lives before they were freed. I felt that the museum honored their memories in a way that set them free.
While the museum expressed emotions of struggle and hope, they also set a call to action to join in the fight. I’m a passionate person, but it wasn’t until I walked into a dark room with a pillar of beads representing the millions of lives that were lost in slavery that my stomach churned.
If you want a motivational talk to take a more active role against oppression of people everywhere, just walk into that room and let it sink in. We have that speech on display in Cincinnati.
Why go: Cincinnati played a critical role in changing the tide of slavery in the United States. This museum is dedicated to education for the eradication of slavery. It is a surreal experience that makes you feel joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust.
We invite you to follow this journey in real time online at www.unlockcincinnati.org, on Twitter (@UnlockThe513, @SethTWalsh and @erinhinson2), Instagram (@sethtwalsh and @erinhinson2) and Facebook, or by following #UnlockCincinnati. Or you can email us at email@example.com.